In his 30 August editorial, “We’ve Seen This Movie Before,” Stanley Fish notes that critics of Park51 (the so-called ‘Ground Zero mosque’) describe the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 as an act committed by Islam, for which all Muslims are to some extent responsible. In contrast, the stabbing of a cab driver by an attacker who reportedly asked the driver if he is Muslim is seen as “the act of a disturbed individual,” not a representative of an anti-Islamic position.
I feel that the notion of strategic essentialism (Spivak 1988; Bucholtz 2003) may be relevant here, by an analysis through the lens of imposed adequation (Hodges 2008).
Spivak described strategic essentialism as the assumption of an identity position as a means for subalterns to organize political response while still recognizing and critiquing the problems of essentialist discourses. Hodges analyzed narratives through which American authorities equated secular Ba’athist Iraq with Qutbist Islamist al-Qaeda, imposing a politically useful identity between the two groups.
In the case Fish critiques, critics identify the builders of Park51 with the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks while denying that suspicion or antipathy toward Islam is a basis for identification.
As I say, I feel like there is an analysis there, but at this point I’ll look forward to someone else making it.
Bucholtz, Mary. 2003. Sociolinguistic nostalgia and the authentication of identity. Journal of Sociolinguistics 7(3), 398-416.
Hodges, Adam. 2008. The ‘war on terror’ narrative: The (inter)textual construction and contestation of sociopolitical reality. PhD thesis. Boulder: University of Colorado.
Spivak, Gayatri. 1988. Subaltern studies: Deconstructing historiography. In R. Guha and G. Spivak (eds.) Selected Subaltern Studies. London: Oxford University Press. 3-32.